Commentary Magazine


Topic: Javad Zarif

Desperation Not a Good Negotiating Position

Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to the Sultanate of Oman this weekend, where he will meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and his European Union counterpart, Catherine Ashton.

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Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to the Sultanate of Oman this weekend, where he will meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and his European Union counterpart, Catherine Ashton.

Kerry’s meeting comes against the backdrop of an extraordinary interview he gave to the press from Paris:

“I want to get this done,” Kerry said during a series of meetings in which the Iranian negotiations figured prominently. “And we are driving toward the finish with a view of trying to get it done.” Kerry said Iran is entitled to develop its nuclear program for civilian, not military, use. “They have a right to a peaceful program but not a track to a bomb,” Kerry said. “We believe it is pretty easy to prove to the world that a plan is peaceful.”

The Iranians have a right to a peaceful program? Well, the Islamic Republic’s politicians have made that their mantra. But then, they conducted nuclear-weapons research at least until 2003, and stonewalled the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which, in 2005, found Iran formally in non-compliance with its Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Safeguards Agreement. This, in turn, led to the United Nations Security Council taking up the Iran file, and in turn this led to at least six UN Security Council Resolutions which found that Iran did not have a right to a peaceful program given its previous violations.

It’s all well and good for Iranian negotiators to talk about the rights bestowed by the NPT, but they fail to acknowledge their violations voided those rights. For many activists and diplomats, the talks are a fiction meant to preserve the NPT rather than the means to resolve the nuclear impasse. In this, the world sees the same nod and wink that it saw in the lead-up to the Agreed Framework with North Korea two decades ago. That Iranian negotiators hold North Korea up as a model to emulate should set off alarm bells.

Back to Kerry: He is absolutely wrong to suggest that Iran has any right to a peaceful program. The only reason why he might utter such a mantra is because he and the administration he serves have become so unilateral that they are prepared to waive not only American sanctions but several unanimous or near-unanimous Security Council resolutions.

That he believes Iran’s program is peaceful beggars belief, for it ignores that peaceful programs are not built under mountains or in secret. It ignores that if Iran’s goal is indigenous energy security, the Islamic Republic doesn’t possess enough uranium to fuel eight civilian reactors for more than 15 years. And it ignores that if Iran’s goal was merely energy security, it could have rebuilt its refinery capability and pipeline network to power itself for more than a century at a fraction of its nuclear investment. It ignores the fact that the nuclear fatwa which Obama found so convincing apparently does not exist. Nor does he pay attention to President Rouhani’s history of deception and statements which suggest extreme insincerity.

Kerry is right that there is no reason for Iran not to reach an agreement by the November 24 deadline. There was, indeed, no reason for Iran not to reach an agreement with the IAEA in 2005, or with the international community upon receiving its first sanction. All Iran had to do was come clean about its past and comply with its international commitments.

The fact of the matter is that the more Obama and Kerry project desperation for a deal—and Kerry’s statement with regard to November 24 reflects that desperation—the more likely it is that Iran will retrench itself, as Supreme Leader Khamenei recently did with his declaration of redlines.

Let us hope that Kerry remembers that the purpose of the Iran talks was to address issues of Iran’s dishonesty and non-compliance with its agreements, not to paper over them. Just as with North Korea, a bad deal is far worse than no deal at all. Securing a legacy for Obama or being the center of international attention for a day or two is not worth the price to U.S. national security.

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Eli Lake on NIAC

Eli Lake has a blockbuster story in the Washington Times concerning the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which made its name as a reliable apologist for the mullahs and has consistently advocated lifting sanctions against the Iranian regime. (Some background is here and here.) NIAC, according to Lake’s report, worked hard to create a media storm over Obama Middle East adviser Dennis Ross, fearing he would advocate a tougher line against the mullahs. Moreover, it turns out NIAC hasn’t played by the rules:

Law enforcement experts who reviewed some of the documents, which were made available to The Times by the defendant in the suit, say e-mails between Mr. Parsi and Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations at the time, Javad Zarif — and an internal review of the Lobbying Disclosure Act — offer evidence that the group has operated as an undeclared lobby and may be guilty of violating tax laws, the Foreign Agents Registration Act and lobbying disclosure laws.

Neither Mr. Parsi nor anyone else at NIAC has registered as a lobbyist or filed papers with the Justice Department as a local agent of the Iranian government or Iranian companies. … Mr. Parsi defended his decision to organize NIAC as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and declare on tax forms that his group does not engage in lobbying — a status that enables donors to deduct contributions on their taxes.

Lake also exposes the NIAC claim to represent “the Iranian community” in America – or least many in it — to be, well, laughable. He explains: “The organization has between 2,500 and 3,000 members, according to Mr. Parsi, but had fewer than 500 responses to a membership survey conducted last summer, internal documents show. Yet NIAC asserts that it is the largest such group and represents the majority of the nearly 1 million Iranian Americans.” Five hundred, 1 million, whatever.

Parsi and NIAC have done their best to insulate the Iranian regime from criticism and to oppose any military or economic action against it. Parsi, you may recall, did his anti-anti-Iran routine recently at J Street’s conference. (J Street and NIAC share a common goal: prevention of sanctions against the regime. In addition, Genevieve Lynch, a NIAC board member, is on J Street’s finance committee and gave a cool $10,000 to the J Street gang.) As Jeffrey Goldberg observed, he does “a lot of leg-work” for the mullahs in the U.S. Lake quotes famed Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf as saying, “I think Trita Parsi does not belong to the Green Movement. I feel his lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic.”

One other note, John Limbert was a board member of NIAC before recently being named deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran. Lake notes, “Mr. Limbert declined to comment, citing his new position, but has appeared at NIAC conferences in the past and expressed admiration for the organization and for its charismatic leader, Trita Parsi.”

Lake’s bombshell piece will no doubt cause a huge stir among those both within and outside the Obama administration who’ve chosen to cozy up to NIAC, and in turn give the mullahs a helping hand.

Eli Lake has a blockbuster story in the Washington Times concerning the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which made its name as a reliable apologist for the mullahs and has consistently advocated lifting sanctions against the Iranian regime. (Some background is here and here.) NIAC, according to Lake’s report, worked hard to create a media storm over Obama Middle East adviser Dennis Ross, fearing he would advocate a tougher line against the mullahs. Moreover, it turns out NIAC hasn’t played by the rules:

Law enforcement experts who reviewed some of the documents, which were made available to The Times by the defendant in the suit, say e-mails between Mr. Parsi and Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations at the time, Javad Zarif — and an internal review of the Lobbying Disclosure Act — offer evidence that the group has operated as an undeclared lobby and may be guilty of violating tax laws, the Foreign Agents Registration Act and lobbying disclosure laws.

Neither Mr. Parsi nor anyone else at NIAC has registered as a lobbyist or filed papers with the Justice Department as a local agent of the Iranian government or Iranian companies. … Mr. Parsi defended his decision to organize NIAC as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and declare on tax forms that his group does not engage in lobbying — a status that enables donors to deduct contributions on their taxes.

Lake also exposes the NIAC claim to represent “the Iranian community” in America – or least many in it — to be, well, laughable. He explains: “The organization has between 2,500 and 3,000 members, according to Mr. Parsi, but had fewer than 500 responses to a membership survey conducted last summer, internal documents show. Yet NIAC asserts that it is the largest such group and represents the majority of the nearly 1 million Iranian Americans.” Five hundred, 1 million, whatever.

Parsi and NIAC have done their best to insulate the Iranian regime from criticism and to oppose any military or economic action against it. Parsi, you may recall, did his anti-anti-Iran routine recently at J Street’s conference. (J Street and NIAC share a common goal: prevention of sanctions against the regime. In addition, Genevieve Lynch, a NIAC board member, is on J Street’s finance committee and gave a cool $10,000 to the J Street gang.) As Jeffrey Goldberg observed, he does “a lot of leg-work” for the mullahs in the U.S. Lake quotes famed Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf as saying, “I think Trita Parsi does not belong to the Green Movement. I feel his lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic.”

One other note, John Limbert was a board member of NIAC before recently being named deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran. Lake notes, “Mr. Limbert declined to comment, citing his new position, but has appeared at NIAC conferences in the past and expressed admiration for the organization and for its charismatic leader, Trita Parsi.”

Lake’s bombshell piece will no doubt cause a huge stir among those both within and outside the Obama administration who’ve chosen to cozy up to NIAC, and in turn give the mullahs a helping hand.

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